There he his is leaning into the mic, the ageless Salopian troubadour with the skinny chicken legs and those timeless strawberry blonde curls and impenetrable shades- standing there, armed with that familiar rasping voice- laying it on the line with his heart on sleeve, emotional kick vocal.
Ian Hunter, the Shrewsbury boy, who spent the sixties in endless rock roll bands whilst working in factories, then the seventies in glam rock gods Mott the Hoople and the last few decades as a solo artist is back in town and playing the biggest venue he has for years.
He looks great for 73, unchanged, unflinching in the merciless march of time and still with the emotional raw power that marked his music out from the start.
All night people come up and say âIan Hunter- legendâ.
The word legend is very overused. It gets attached to all kinds of no marks and detritus so much that it has been devalued. You gotta to earn that kind of status but there is no argument here tonight at the Ritz that Ian Hunter is a full on, 24 carat legend.
Heâs a legend because of his long career, brilliant songs and his indomitable spirit that sees no compromise to the whims of fashion. This is about pure, raw talent and a belief in the power of rock n roll.
In the seventies Hunterâs band, Mott The Hoople were one of the great British bands. On one level they were the loveable, nearly thereâs, who aimed for the stars and ended up in the gutter. In the early seventies they spent three albums as cult heroes under the guidance of the great Guy Stevens and his wonky vision of greatness and nearly gave up before Bowie handed them All the Young Dudes and they hit the top of the charts.
They looked set for seventies greatness with a run of Hunter penned hits, writing some of the greatest songs of the first half of the seventies. They seemed to be at the start of something before it all petered out when the band fell apart in the mid seventies. It was frustrating to watch as a fan but they left a great catalogue of albums that have been plundered for inspiration over the decades.
They had toured America and got to the fringes of the US top 30, which was rare for any UK band tinged with glam rock. This was because they really did rock. Their combination of Dylan and the Stones was perfect swaggering rock n roll with razor sharp lyrics that created a template for seventies rock n roll. It was a template that the boss Springsteen himself probably ran with and was copied by a whole raft of American bands.
You can hear their influence all over punk rock as well with the Clash being a prime example. They are part of the cultural DNA, Britpop was in hock to them and Noel Gallagher has told me several times that he has nicked a few tunes from them. Despite all this evidence of their greatness the real calling card are Ian Hunterâs songs that stand through generations and make you feel a massive rush of excitement and human warmth when they are played tonight.
Ian Hunter is back out on tour, supporting his new solo album, his twentieth- the fantastically named When I’m President. He plays a few cuts from the album tonight and they are a tad more mellow that his seventies fare, relying on his acoustic and not that trademark plonking piano that always sounded so great. They come armed with those familiar great lyrics still sung in that rasping voice that was built for rock n roll and a are typically soul searching and laced with the great rasping melodies.
Hunter has a stage presence that belies his age. He may be 73 but is still sprightly and in full control. The new album shows an undiminished talent for songwriting and his creativity is still in first gear with the new songs slotting into the set comfortably next to the old classics.
The new material sounds more American with a touch of Springsteen car lore and the croak of late period Dylan in their freeway radio hooks and it has done better than any of his albums for years making the American album charts.
The new songs fit perfectly into the set and itâs a seamless switch from the opening new songs into his first solo single Once Bitten Twice Shy, a version that switches the distinctive, clipped electric guitar chug for an acoustic driven intro before the familiar vocal comes in. The song builds and builds and explodes to its sing-along crescendo. I can still clearly remember hearing this the day it came out, relieved that Ian Hunter had not disappeared after the fall of Mott.
The set is dotted with great versions of the old classics- mixing their glam swagger with the wisened wisdom of the 21st century Hunter- Roll Away The Stone, is stretched out and euphoric- a timeless classic and played with the cool confidence of the older player.
There is a great extended version of All American Alien Boy, the song he wrote when he moved the States all those decades ago. Bouncing along on that simple 4 chord piano figure the song features those typically soul searching vocals. This is a great example of transatlantic Hunter- a unique mix of the dream America he grew up with in the post war period and the down to earth rainy day Englishness already hinted at in his classic Diary Of A Rock n Roll Star book about the early Mott tours of America. The great thing about Hunter is that no matter how infused he gets into American culture from his days as a rock n roll freak to living in the USA he still sounds as British as HP sauce.
He plays a stripped down and beautiful version of Michael Picasso – Hunter’s stunning song to his fallen comrade, the guitar genius Mick Ronson- whose addition to Mott The Hoople caused the band to meltdown before he became a powerful ally in the Hunter solo career. The song is powerfully emotional and dripping with a well judged sentimentality. He also plays a killer version of John Lennonâs Isolation, matching the much missed Beatleâs raw emotion with a powerful version of the song.
The new album’s title track is powerful and laced with great lyrics but the best new track is Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse) which they play for the first encore. A haunting, atmospheric slice of Americana it’s unlike anything he has done before. The song smoulders and builds with the delicious playing of a song sung from the perspective of Native American chief Crazy Horse. It’s an outstanding piece of work and makes you think that for Hunter’s 21st solo album he should work, lets say, with Americana kings, Lambchop and make a whole album of this stripped down, atmospheric, big country Americana. This kind of music really suits him, giving space for those great lyrics and its sparseness underlines the very human croaks and cracks in his voice that are, as ever, very endearing.
The encores end with a great stripped down version of Saturday Gigs with every person in house singing the lyrics for him- those haunting lyrics, the dairy of a rock n roll star set to song that told the story of the seventies like a film are sung with a wave of emotion from the floor. The love of the room even takes Hunter back before the band collapse into a triumphant and anthemic All The Young Dudes. The song that was the anthem to a glam generation and one of the greatest songs ever, a song you can ever tire of listening to- and song that shows you how to cover someone elseâs tune and turn it into your own still sounds enormous. Itâs like the biggest football sing-along ever. Not even Ian Hunter can follow this up and the set ends here with a triumphant climax.
Indomitable, Ian Hunter maybe one of the old dudes but age suits him and his wisdom thing has never seemed so profound.